Purdue Basketball 2011
Purdue Boilermakers @ Illinois FIghting Illini Basketball Recap
Purdue 81, Illinois 70
The Purdue Boilermakers are doing far better with a diminished lineup than anyone reasonably could have expected before the beginning of the season. The Illinois Fighting Illini are doing much worse with a full lineup than anyone could have expected when the 2011 season began.
Illinois is still likely to join Purdue in this year’s NCAA Tournament, but after a sad-sack Sunday afternoon at home on their Champaign campus, the Illini have some work to do before they tuck away a tourney ticket. The team that was the first one left out of last year’s tournament needs to make sure that next month’s Selection Sunday doesn’t involve any drama at all.
It was indeed an unproductive weekend for coach Bruce Weber’s Illini outfit. Playing at home in Assembly Hall against a Robbie Hummel-free Purdue roster, the Orange Crush got kicked to the curb. An overachieving bunch of Boilermakers bopped on in to the Land of Lincoln and affirmed their place in the top tier of the Big Ten standings. One afternoon showed why these programs occupy different realms of the league’s power structure. While Purdue can still attain a very high NCAA Tournament seed, Illinois is left to fight like the dickens just to put on its Dancing shoes.
The narrative really isn’t very different from what it’s been ever since Illinois made its one big NCAA run, all the way to the 2005 national championship game against North Carolina: Purdue overachieves and works harder than anyone else in the Big Ten not named Wisconsin, while Illinois squanders flashy talent and open-court speed because of its lack of fortitude near the basket. These basic patterns were once again in evidence as the Boilers won on the road and returned to West Lafayette with a very satisfying triumph that catapulted them to 9-3 in the conference, just two games behind Ohio State. Illinois, on the other hand, plummeted to 6-6 and could not maintain the momentum it generated in Thursday’s win at Minnesota.
The storyline, as you can gather from the preceding paragraphs, really wasn’t complicated or unfamiliar: Purdue outworked Illinois at both ends of the floor. While Illinois languishes thanks to charmin-soft centers like Mike Tisdale (9 points and 6 rebounds in this contest, a decidedly and typically modest effort) and mediocre forwards like Bill Cole (5 points and 2 rebounds), the rest of the Illini have not been able to pick up the slack this season, and Sunday’s clash with Purdue showed why.
Illinois got crushed on the glass, 37-25, and 11-4 on the offensive backboard. Purdue tracked down most of the 50-50 balls in this game, just as it does against most foes. Guards Brandon Paul (23 points) and D.J. Richardson played well for Illinois, and forward Mike Davis – in a rare display of quality – tossed in 16 points as well, but the Illini’s lack of boardwork and defensive hustle left the home team groping for answers against Purdue. Coach Matt Painter’s Boilermakers earned nine more foul shots on the road, a clear reflection of the visitors’ superior worth ethic near the rim. Four of Purdue’s starters snapped down at least five rebounds, and that’s part of why the Boilers made so many trips to the charity stripe (31 in all). Illinois just didn’t put up much of a fight in the second half at the defensive end of the floor, and that’s why Purdue scored 54 points after halftime to coast to the finish line first. Illinois got within six points on a few separate occasions in the final minutes, but never closer.
In many ways, the biggest key to Purdue’s win – and Illinois’s loss – was the play of Illini guard Demetri McCamey. Muscular, swift, and graced with a good handle, McCamey should be one of the premier players in America, not just the Big Ten. However, to a degree even worse than Tisdale, McCamey shrinks from the fight in big games. The floor leader for Illinois just isn’t much of a leader to begin with, and therein lies a major reason why Weber just isn’t getting much out of his teams in Champaign. On this day against Purdue’s relentless backcourt defense, McCamey meekly drifted through the motions at the point guard spot, making only one field goal in 10 attempts and settling for a paltry four points.
No wonder Illinois is lingering near the NCAA bubble. No wonder Purdue’s defense – enough to contain the Illini when it mattered – is leading the Boilermakers to considerable heights despite the absence of Hummel, the team’s best player, who has missed the entirety of the 2011 season.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. We’ll see if Illinois can mature into a better ballclub before the regular season ultimately ends. Meanwhile, don’t worry about Purdue. The lads from Indiana have a great shot to reach the second weekend of the Big Dance yet again.
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